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What is the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing?

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As they contemplate their future and career options, most college students at least briefly consider attending graduate school. Students with strong interests in writing often consider seeking additional training in order to hone their craft and obtain skills and connections to pursue a career in writing. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you love to write? Are you considering a career in writing? The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree is often the graduate degree of choice for aspiring writers.

What is the Master of Fine Arts Degree?
The Master in Fine Arts is a master’s degree, like any other master’s degree, but it is awarded in the arts. MFAs are most commonly earned in writing, but also other artistic fields like film, photography, music, dance, and art. The most common writing MFA is in creative writing, though MFAs are also offered in poetry and other specialized areas such as professional writing.

Should You Get a Master’s Degree in English or a Master of Fine Arts Degree?
If you love literature and love to write, you might wonder which graduate degree is for you. Should you go the traditional route and earn a master’s degree in English or literature? Or should you apply for a master of fine arts degree?

You will write plenty of papers in both MA and MFA programs, but the kind of writing that you do will vary dramatically between the two. Master’s degree programs in English are academic programs oriented towards training students to analyze and critique literature. The emphasis is on consuming and analyzing existing literature. Master of Fine Arts programs, on the other hand, train students to create literature. Rather than learning the skills of scholarly analyses, the MFA student learns how to write. The English or literature master’s degree is scholarly degree while the MFA an applied degree.

What is the Typical MFA Curriculum?
Earning an MFA typically requires two years of full time study though many programs offer part time options. The curriculum usually entails a combination of traditional coursework (classes in which students analyze literature) and workshops. Workshops are the cornerstone of MFA programs because they are process oriented hands-on classes designed to teach students how to write and how to critically analyze their own work. Workshops are designed to create a community of writers that support and help students produce writing. Most MFA programs require a thesis, typically a substantial work or collection of work that is of publishable quality, such as a book, screenplay, or collection of short stories or poems.

What Can You Do with an MFA in Writing?
An MFA prepares graduates to teach at universities, four-year colleges, and community colleges, as well as in K-12 programs (with additional certification). That said, there is a great deal of competition for academic jobs. If you plan to compete for an academic position be prepared to prepare high quality works and publish often in reputable and high profile outlets. The MFA graduate is more likely to land a job at a 2 year community college. Remember that as a college instructor you will likely teach classes in composition rather than creative writing.

Career success is often found outside of academia. MFA graduates work in other fields in which writing and critical thinking abilities are needed, including many communications, journalistic, and public relations positions. Writers may work in public, profit, and not-for-profit industries creating web sites and web-driven modes of communication.

Depending on the program, writing experiences, and connections with faculty and authors, a career in publishing may also be possible. However, as you consider whether to pursue an MFA, recognize that even successful writers often are unable to support themselves by writing alone.

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